VACAVILLE — There were plenty of high-fives, smiles and even one soft landing that resulted in a spare at the annual Joy Graham Bowling event at Stars Recreation Center.
More than 100 special needs junior high, high school and post-secondary students participated the first day, which was Wednesday. Double that number was expected for the second day Friday.
This year’s tournament, which awards ribbons to all participants, marked 20 years of knocking down pins. It’s named after Joy Graham, a retired adaptive physical education teacher from the Vacaville School District.
Graham, despite a health scare a week earlier, was on hand to receive lots of hugs and smile as the participants enjoyed fellowship, food and facing off with some plastic-coated pins.
“It’s all about lifetime events,” she said. “This is something they can do. We hope they continue with it and bowl the rest of their lives.”
Elaine Peterson organized this year’s gathering that typically draws participants from northern Solano County, who are served by the Solano County Office of Education.
Bowling is a popular sport because it can be adapted, said Peterson, an adaptive physical education teacher in the Vacaville schools. Participants were able to use bumpers that kept balls from going in the gutters, and ramps to launch the balls.
The basics are taught in adaptive physical education classes.
“They understand they are to knock them down, even if they can’t count,” Peterson said.
Angel Guzman, an eighth-grader at Crystal Middle School, had more than enough help. Before he could move his wheelchair near the lane, at least one, and most of the time, three, of his pals were there to put the ramp in place and help him push down the ball.
He’s been in a wheelchair since birth. He has no muscles in his legs.
“It’s fun,” he said of being part of the event. “It’s cool.”
He finished with a respectable score of 90. Edgar Soto got the highest score with 100. Jesse Vang was second, one point behind Edgar. Luis Rodriguez finished with a score of 94.
“This is only my second time bowling,” Edgar said.
All go to Crystal Middle School. Jesse was the lone seventh-grader in the group. Edgar and Luis are in eighth grade.
Junior Rivas, 20, made a trip from Dixon to Vacaville with four other bowlers, all between 18 and 22. He chose a yellow ball to throw down the lane, thinking it was a lucky color. His guess was right. Rivas fared the best in his group.
Grange Middle School was represented by a group of six, many of them donning T-shirts bearing the school’s name. When transportation is available, their instructor Jason Hicks takes them to Stars for practice. Two of his students are in wheelchairs.
“I love to see the smiles,” he said.
Wide grins were plentiful.
Photographic and hostess duties were handled by members of Vacaville High School’s Best Friends club, which pairs up special needs and mainstream students.
Jessica Papadopoulos serves as the group’s treasurer. Best Friends visits the special education classes weekly. The visits meant as much to her as they did the other students, she said.
“We are all people,” she said. “We are peers.”
The event is funded entirely by donations. The cost is about $10 per participant, Peterson said.
For information on how to help out with a donation, send an email to Peterson at [email protected]
Reach Amy Maginnis-Honey at 427-6957 or [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/amaginnisdr.